Aug 6, 2019

Comcast expands low-income internet program

A Comcast vehicle. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Comcast announced today its largest-ever eligibility expansion for Internet Essentials, the cable giant's program that subsidizes basic broadband service and low-cost computers to help increase adoption for low-income households in the cities Comcast serves.

Why it matters: Households living in cities with the highest poverty rates are up to 10 times more likely than those in higher earning communities to not have access to wireline broadband internet service at home.

According to 2017 census data, rich communities like Palo Alto, California, and Bethesda, Maryland, have only 6% of households without wireline broadband subscriptions. But in cities with higher poverty rates like Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan, up to 60% of households do not have wired broadband service to their home.

The big picture: Many low-income households rely on smartphones to access the internet, often because it's cheaper than buying the gear and a computer needed for a home connection.

  • Comcast executive David Cohen said on a call with reporters that a smartphone is not adequate for students trying to complete homework or adults trying to create a resume and apply for jobs.

Details: The program, which began 8 years ago with the merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal, will now be open to seniors and people with disabilities. To date, the program has connected more than 8 million low-income individuals from 2 million households, the company says.

Yes, but: The Internet Essentials service, which costs $10 a month, provides download speeds of 15 megabits per second, which is slower than the FCC's benchmark for broadband (25 megabits per second). Cohen argued that speed is "more than sufficient" for most household needs, and he pointed out Comcast has raised the speeds 4 times over the past 8 years.

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Faster internet is coming, but only for a few

Data: FCC; Note: Non-mobile broadband speeds are 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload, Mobile LTE are 10 Mbps/3 Mbps; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Broadband technologies are getting better and faster — but access to them is still concentrated in metro areas and suburbs, leaving vast swaths of the country with marginal service or nothing at all.

Why it matters: Benefits of the broadband advances are mostly going to consumers who already have plenty of options for robust internet connections. Despite efforts to narrow the digital divide, rural areas, small towns and low-income neighborhoods in big cities still struggle to have access to reliable and affordable broadband service.

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Astranis to launch satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2020

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching to space. Photo: SpaceX

Satellite internet startup Astranis is planning to launch its first commercial satellite to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2020, the company announced Monday.

How it works: The satellite is designed to improve broadband internet service in Alaska starting in March 2021.

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Big Telecom's sweet summer of revenge

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

One byproduct of the techlash: After years of frustration that Silicon Valley companies seemed to get special treatment in Washington, telecom giants are finally gaining the upper hand.

Between the lines: Telecom companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are now starting to feel more able to compete with tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon as they all jockey to dominate how we communicate and access information.

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